When one thinks of Amisho Baraka better known as Sho Baraka and his latest album, The Narrative, what do they think of? The words “it’s been a long time coming” sung by Sam Cook immediately come to mind for me. Sho Baraka is probably your favorite rapper’s favorite rapper and for good reason: he is an amazing artist. It seems that pushing boundaries and expanding the thought of what a hip hop emcee can and can’t do is wrapped in Baraka’s DNA, and that shines through on The Narrative. Make no mistake, the sound and subject matter on this album is no jump onto a bandwagon (as Sho has been saying for a while). This is the type of music he desired to make. Seeing the power and influence that stories have, Sho tells a story of his own on The Narrative.
A Sho Baraka project is not always what it seems on the surface. Sho finds ways to be innovative and creative on all of his projects and The Narrative is no exception. If we back up to his last project, Talented Xth, you’ll see some of that creativity. That album had features listed as “co-authors” and the song titles were the names of people who encapsulated the theme of the song. On The Narrative, we find the title of the song accompanied by a year, this may not make sense now, but it will once you listen to each song. Amisho starts off the album with a very strong introduction titled “Foreword, 1619” and it definitely sets the tone for the album. “Don’t close the book I got more to write/you can change the story that is my advice” are the first words Sho speaks to us. This story that Sho is narrating is of a character that seems to be based on his life and his name is “Louis Portier.” The year 1619 refers to when the first African slaves arrived in America. The instrumentation changes up near the end of the song and Adan Bean delivers a powerful spoken word that further introduces Louis Portier to the audience. The Narrative seems to be about the story of African American with lines from Adan like “from Massa’s plantation to Mass Incarceration” you know this album will leave no stone unturned.
The next track “Soul, 1971” is a groovy song with Jamie Portee (you’ll hear him on this album a lot) with Sho esteeming real manhood. Sho spazzes with lines like “Church ain’t saving, they just decorating sinners” and “When the liquor store’s your neighbor, you’ll prolly grow up a drunk/ when the courts keep you from court, you’ll prolly learn how to dunk.” Sho doesn’t fall into the pitfall of blaming people for their situations, but points out the systems that set up the situations many face. Add in Jamie Portee saying “I’m a man, ain’t I?” and men shout back “you the man!” This is a groovy and soulful track which may be what 1971 represents. Track number three is special indeed and with the title “Kanye, 2009” you don’t really know what to expect. First we hear an old choir singing “something got a hold of me” and then the beat comes in with some sure fire gospel chords on the keys, while Sho sings “I got something to say, well gon say it then.” This song is Sho venting about things he has issue with and brought Jackie Hill Perry along to get some bars off as well. Sho goes in with “Why when I share my faith it’s called intolerance/but when they share their hate it’s called scholarship” and Jackie hits everyone in media right on the nose with “ stop asking me about the lack of female rappers/ you rappers ain’t even ready for what’s gon come after/ we busy being mothers while you chasing platforms.” Later on the song we hear Natalie Lauren saying if you ain’t talking about nothing, you need to shut up. This song is just amazing. Next on the album is “Love 1959” produced by Jamie Portee and theBeatbreaker and it sounds like the year in the title. This sounds like something you would hear at juke joint and that’s not a bad thing. You can practically see Sho in a suit sliding around stage with background singers dancing with a band behind them. Sho pretty much changed how CHH writes love songs a few years ago and he knocked this one right out of the park.
As The Narrative progresses, we arrive at what is probably my favorite song on the album “Here, 2016” featuring Lecrae. This song was produced by Swoope and theBeatbreaker and it sounds like triumph with the keys and the horns building up to a momentous occasion and it is. Sho was on Lecrae’s project back in 2012 but Lecrae hadn’t been on a Sho project since 2010, how would they sound together after all this time? The two sound like their absolute best as they talk about the things they are “here” for. As a matter of fact, “I’m here for that” may be my new phrase for the upcoming year. Probably the most fun you will have on this album will be found on the song “30 and Up, 1986” produced by and featured Courtney Orlando (JR. when he produces). The 1986 stands for the age one would be thirty and just celebrates being over thirty and being able to have grown fun. Sho is big on hip hop growing up (see his song Peter Pan) and makes music for those who feel the same way. This song speaks on staying in love, and it bops. The next two songs “Profhet, 1968” and “Maybe Both, 1865” were produced by Jamie Portee and tackle serious subjects. “Profhet, 1968” talks about being undervalued but still able to be a profit to society as well as call for more prophets who aren’t just in this for the profits. The 1968 of course refers to the year Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated, and it is worth mentioning that many consider this year to be one of the most historic years in modern U.S. History. Many of us may have heard “Maybe Both, 1865” and it is inspired by Malcolm X’s Ballot or the Bullet speech and speaks about politics and violence, but the last part of the song changes and Sho brings a whole other perspective to the song. I won’t ruin it, but you should definitely check this song and that last verse in particular.
Heading into the latter part of the album we find “Excellent, 2017” produced by JR. and it sounds like trap meets jazz, but somehow it works. Sho has long been an advocate of excellence and esteems it almost every chance he gets. In The Narrative if we want the story to change, we need the Lord and to work in excellence towards our goals. This next song may seem familiar to some as “The Road To Humble, 1979” was how Humble beast announced that Sho Baraka joined the Humble Beast label. Jamie Portee was on the production, Sho tells the chronicle of going from a child to a humble adult, where he is currently in his career (double entendre?), and 1979 is when Sho was born. Sho paints a clear and undeniable picture of gentrification and the current state of life for minorities with the song “Myhood USA, 1937” featuring Vanessa Hill. TheBeatbreaker crafted a soft sea of music and Sho’s delivery almost sounds like he is sitting in a chair telling this story to a group of small children. The year 1937 stands for the Housing Act of 1937, which was the beginning of public housing which lead us to our current housing conditions. Sho phrased this track as a love song and did it masterfully.
These next few songs find one Amish Baraka Lewis at his most vulnerable and transparent and the music created by Jamie, Swoope, and theBeatbreaker captures the mood of each song perfectly. On “Words, 2006” Sho openly talks about life with his children on the autistic spectrum. If you know of anyone with children with special needs, you need to let them hear this song. Sho gives no facades of having it all together, but just laments and in the spirit of David encourages himself and thus the listener. Lyrics like “My sons are not a punishment or an accident/ just a little abstract masterpiece of what the Master did” and “I’m getting applause for activities a father should perform” and many others lets you get a glimpse into the innermost workings of Sho’s life. If one had to guess the year 2006 may be the year Sho’s first son was diagnosed as being on the autistic spectrum. Another fundamental trait that Amisho esteems highly is fatherhood and “Fathers, 2004” is a testament to that. One of my favorite things to get from Sho is when he is in his fatherly role and doles out advice via song. With words of wisdom to his sons and his daughter, and a dope video to go alongside it, this song plants a flag in the ground to let the world know that fathers are indeed here. The album concludes with “Piano Break, 33 A.D.” and Sho articulates the struggle that man has with religion and God. “Are we sinners in the hand of an angry God, is it God that’s mimicking us?” Sho tackles new age thoughts and those who claim to be gods with his hook “If I’m what’s good, I must’ve missed something, He’s been good to me!” There is no other good outside of God because without him we would run amuck. “Everything is straight when you have no moral compass/ everything is new when you think like Christopher Columbus” is a scathing reminder that we need to be accountable to someone greater than ourselves. When you listen to this song it may make you want to praise the Lord. This has happened to me on the way from work multiple times. This song has so much packed into it, multiple listens will be required. The year of course speaks to the year when Jesus Christ died, Sho ends the album with this superb song.
This album will go down as one of the best, if not the best album that Sho Baraka has ever created. Orchestrated with a timing that I believe was straight from the hand of God, this album was delivered in a time where it was most needed. The media has created stories about many things and by controlling the story the narrative is changed in whatever way they see fit. I believe that Sho candidly reminds us throughout this album not to let anyone tell or change your story except God Himself. Though the character Louis Portier is mostly like an African American navigating modern society, I believe Sho left this album open so everyone could see themselves as Louis Portier. Literally weeks before the election and all the craziness of life started up again, Sho reminded us that the story is not yet finished and though we may not be the author, everyone has a part to play.
If you’d like to hear Sho’s thoughts behind the album, check it out here.